Sam Tomkins made his long-awaited return from injury on Saturday and his drop goal proved to be vital as Wigan Warriors beat Warrington Wolves 27-26 in the third Challenge Cup quarter-final of the weekend.
The fullback hasn’t played since September last year but slotted back into the side effortlessly, playing a key part in their first try on 11 minutes. His pass sent Oliver Gildart away down the left, before the centre drew in Stefan Ratchford and put Joe Burgess over in the corner. George Williams converted from the touchline to put the Warriors six in front.
In sweltering conditions, the sun was playing its part as Anthony Gelling knocked on from the restart, putting Warrington in good field position. The home side managed to force a repeat set, but couldn’t break down the Wigan line.
Just five minutes later and the Warriors had found their way to their opponents try line once again, doubling their lead. Some great build-up from Ryan Sutton and Joel Tomkins saw George Williams throw a booming pass out to Burgess, before the England international squeezed over in the corner with an acrobatic finish.
Shaun Wane’s men were in complete control and would have extended their lead even further if Thomas Leuluai’s grubber had bounced kindly for Liam Marshall. His well-weighted kick on the fourth tackle found acres of space in the Wolves’ backfield, but Marshall just couldn’t collect as the ball ricocheted along the floor.
His mistake proved costly too, as Warrington scored on the following set. Ryan Atkins rose above the challenging Gelling and Leuluai to expertly take Kurt Gidley’s last-tackle kick to touch down.
The right boots of Patton and Gidley seemed to be working wonders for the Wolves and just moments later, another Warrington kick resulted another Atkins try. Patton’s deft last-tackle grubber was pounced on by the centre, before Patton himself converted to level the scores.
With less than five minutes to play that looked to be it for the first half, but two pieces of magic from Marshall ensured the Warriors led at halftime.
A move to the right saw him break down the wing, before he somehow managed to squirm out of Atkins and Ratchford’s covering tackles to score in the corner.
This made it 18-12 but a Ryan Sutton knock on from the restart gave Warrington one more chance at the Wigan line. Marshall found himself out of position as the ball was spread wide to Lineham, but managed to recover and put in a tackle that was worth six points in its own right, knocking the Warrington man into touch.
Wigan had the first real opportunity of the second half, coming close in the 43rd minute. They chanced their arm on the last with Burgess crossing for what he thought was his hat-trick, only to be pulled back for a forward pass in the build-up.
The Warriors did extend their lead moments later, though, with Williams adding two points from a penalty goal on the back of a tremendous 40/20 from Sam Powell.
The momentum turned the home side’s favour though and they had levelled the scores with just under 20 minutes to go. Andre Savelio barged his way over from close range to cut the deficit to two, before a Patton penalty goal made it 20-20, setting up for a riveting last quarter.
Bateman struck first for Wigan, shimmying his way through the Wolves’ defence to go over from 20m, before Tomkins’ drop goal seemed to seal the deal for the visitors.
But when Kurt Gidley went over with three minutes left to play, Tony Smith’s men had a chance to snatch it.
Marshall’s restart went out on the full, giving Ratchford the opportunity to win it with a penalty kick from halfway. His pulled his effort wide, though, and after a goal-line dropout from Wigan, a drop goal was the Wolves’ only option. Declan Patton stepped up right on the hooter but, like Ratchford, pulled his effort wide, giving Wigan the win and knocking Warrington out of the competition.
Written by Jack Conlon